The period covered by this Business Plan will effectively be bookended by two elections – the General Election on 7 May 2015 and the London Mayoral election on 5 May 2016.
Both will have a significant bearing on London boroughs over the next five years, as will the Comprehensive Spending Review which is likely to fall between those two elections.
Elections and their outcomes matter. We know, however, that there are a number of challenges that London and Londoners will face whoever is in government and whoever is Mayor of our great capital.
Of course, many of these challenges arise from the very success of the capital, not least in attracting people, investment and jobs from across the UK and beyond.
London’s population recently passed the 8.6 million mark, the highest since its 1939 peak. The capital’s population is on track to exceed 9 million by 2020, and is forecast to grow to 11 million by 2050
These facts alone prompt an urgent need for the capital to scale up its infrastructure – its transport, housing, schools and hospitals - but Londoners too need to be scaled up to the challenge. Our schools need to educate children able to succeed in one of the world’s most competitive markets, our GPs and care workers need to address the growing needs of an ageing population - and we need to help our local businesses to thrive and create the jobs that can sustain the capital’s growth.
And of course we must recognise that our responses to the challenges the capital faces will take place within a period of prolonged public finance austerity.
We believe that this circle can only be squared by a reform of public services that focuses on integrated services that help avoid the high costs of dealing with failure. Only by enabling reform, integration and more local autonomy that focuses on prevention and the joining-up of activities to tackle the challenges London faces can a sustainable future be secured. London’s councils, working with the Mayor and other public service partners across the capital, stand ready to pursue these opportunities with the government.
London’s boroughs have already led the way in developing initiatives that show the potential for more effective services and the role local authorities can play in bringing together a range of public agencies to tackle deep-rooted problems. At the same time they have demonstrated themselves to be the most efficient part of the public sector, managing much larger reductions in funding compared to central government departments while protecting front-line services to communities and individuals, including the most vulnerable.
London local government can be proud of what it has achieved. The turnaround in London’s schools for example has been of a staggering scale. In 1989, the year before the boroughs took over their responsibility from the Inner London Education Authority, fewer than 9 per cent of pupils in inner London secondary schools achieved five or more higher grade GCSEs, compared to 17 per cent nationally. Today the equivalent figures are 70.5 per cent in London and 63.8 per cent nationally.
London boroughs have a strong track record of collaborating with each other to share services and create cross-boundary solutions in order to secure better outcomes and maximise value for money.
London Councils itself is an organisation that is home to a number of direct services where borough leaders have recognised the tangible value of shared administration. This includes the much cherished Freedom Pass, run and paid for by London boroughs since 1986, and a range of other transport-related services, such as Taxicard, the Health Emergency Badge, the Parking and Traffic Appeals Service, and the London Lorry Control Scheme. London Councils’ grants committee is also a nexus for the co-commissioning of a set of clearly defined services to tackle shared issues, including homelessness, worklessness and sexual and domestic violence.
The recognition of London Councils as a co-funder for the European Social Fund (ESF) also enables boroughs to access further elements of ESF funding to support local projects.
London boroughs have consistently proved they have the capacity and innovation to tackle the difficult issues their residents face. That is why making the case for more integration of local public services and more devolution to London has been a core feature of London Councils’ work in recent years.
That groundwork is increasingly gaining traction with central government. In July last year the London Growth Deal cemented months of joint work between boroughs, London Councils, the GLA and the London Enterprise Panel and secured a number of commitments from government: including a locally-led pilot to enhance employment support services, which should lead to greater local influence over the commissioning of future national programmes.
But in too many ways our system of government remains rooted in a model that simply cannot meet the challenges of the 21st century. It is time for government to empower both the Mayor and the boroughs - as well as our other great cities - to create solutions from the bottom up and not the top down.
These ambitions for London and for Londoners are a golden thread through the overarching themes and more detailed directorate work programmes set out in this business plan. These shared goals are at the heart of the challenge that London local government will face in 2015/16 and beyond.